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Published: March 13th 2007
After our short stay in Phnom Penh (see My mother. My father. My uncle.
) we caught the bus on 26 February to Siem Reap, a gateway town to the temples of Angkor in northern Cambodia. It is also a starting point for treks and adventure tours around the Siem Reap Province. In our case, we arrived late in the afternoon and reserved the next day for the Angkor temples. Leaving Siem Reap on the 28th to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we simply didn't have the time to go trekking.
The temples of Angkor are by many considered the most amazing temples in the world, with Angkor Wat as its star. In fact, Angkor Wat is of such extraordinary construction that European discoverers were unable to believe that the Khmers could have built it and mistakenly dated it back to the era of Rome, whereas it really dates back to the early 12th century. In the years following its construction, the Cambodian people were led by its rulers to believe that the temple was built by the gods, a deception that is fully understandable when considering how advanced the temple was for its time.
Angkor Wat is a symbol of Cambodia and is depicted
everywhere, be it the Anchor beer or even the Cambodian flag; the only national flag in the world to contain a building. The Cambodian people are proud of the temple as it reminds them of a great era when the Khmers were powerful.
The second most important Angkor temple is the Bayon, which was built in the 13th century and is in fact the last temple to be built at Angkor. It contains lots and lots of faces on its walls as well as what seem like graphical stories being told on the many stone panels. As is so often the case with history, it is debatable what all the various figures, faces and panels are supposed to symbolise.
We were driven by our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Yon, to the Angkor site at 5 am in order to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, Yon had been unable to get us a single guide out of the more than thousand (well, that's what he said) guides in Siem Reap, and we therefore had to walk around by ourselves. This was a major drawback, but luckily, Yon had a lot of information to share, and also, we sometimes
listened in on other guides talking. I strongly suggest to book a ahead to ensure that you have a guide if visiting the site, for example by contacting Mr. Yon (see his details on one of the photos below).
Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat was a mighty experience. We were there while it was still pitch dark, thus we got to see the entire process of the temple gradually becoming visible in all its grandeur. Not having a tripod for my camera I was still able to place it on a rock in front of me in order to take photos with long shutter times, however, some American tourists seemed unable to understand the necessity of a stable footing for the camera and sat themselves rudely down just in front of us without even asking. I pointed out that we had arrived at the spot first and that perhaps they could move as I needed a free line for my camera. The girl then wondered if I couldn't move instead and take a photo from a different spot! Not being the first of their kind we have met on this trip, I am perplexed by the lack of
respect these people display towards others when they are out travelling and representing their very unpopular country.
Later, we had the unpleasant experience of meeting some begging kids. It wasn't their begging per se
that bothered us, though, but how
they tried to earn money: Hello sir, where are you from? Norway? Capital Oslo. Do you have one dollar? Do you want to see me? Please, just one dollar to see me,
They further proceeded to jump in the water of a lake and "play", however, it all seemed a big act. It seemed clear to us that they had been previously rewarded for both "playing" as well as undressing. A sick scenario, indeed! We didn't get in a better mood when some American females were tired of photographing temples and started shooting the kids without realising that it was all just an act, or to let me quote one of them: Oh, look at them play, it's so natural, you know, like, like they don't have a worry in the world! I just have to shoot this, oh, awesome!
We also met several bands of land mine victims who were playing music
in order to make a living. It was quite an impression to see these people with missing limbs and their prostheses lying in front of them, and although the music didn't sound that great in our ears (I've met foreigners who couldn't stand traditional Norwegian music involving the Hardangerfela either), it actually sounded quite professional. We anyhow gave them some money, as of course this was not about a musical performance but stigmatised people trying to make a living without begging and while keeping their dignity.
After sunrise, we proceeded to investigate the inside of Angkor Wat and then to visit the other temples. Unfortunately, it was extremely hot this day, with temperatures that I believe were close to 40 degrees Celsius, and this made walking around very tiring, and we simply had to abandon our plan of staying until sunset. We went back around midday after seeing the most important temples and found a swimming pool at a hotel. Gladly paying the 5 dollars we jumped in and cooled down for a few hours. We then went back to Angkor late in the afternoon to watch the sunset from the Phnom Bakheng temple. Climbing to the top via
some very steep stairs, one can see Angkor Wat in the far distance as well as other of the temples at Angkor. We sat down and just watched the sun slowly sink with several hundreds of others, both tourists and romantically inclined local couples. We concluded that visiting the Angkor temples had truly been a magnificent experience at a magnificent place.
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